Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Opry, the City, the Flood

In earlier postings, I mentioned that a casualty of the Great Flood of May 2010 was the Grand Ole Opry House. And how despite this, "the show goes on"!

Well, the Grand Ole Opry show, approaching its 85th anniversary on the airwaves, goes on being inextricably bound -- joined at the heart, if you will -- with the city that's its home. A city that certainly did NOT even like or accept the show in its earliest decades!

That's right, dear reader. When the WSM Barn Dance commenced in 1925 it immediately began attracting into Nashville the rural farm-folk who listened religiously to WSM on Saturday nights. Consider the city's proud nickname then: "The Athens of the South". Nashville aspired to be a leader in education, fine arts and culture worthy of that tag. A hillbilly radio show -- even (perhaps especially!) after the name change to Grand Ole Opry -- wasn't what the blue-blood, country-club types who led the city in business, politics and society, had in mind. Comedienne Minnie Pearl, alter ego of high society woman Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon (she and pilot husband Henry Cannon lived next door to the Governor's Mansion), tells in her autobiography about opposition of Nashville residents to WSM and its show. She herself hadn't paid much attention to the Opry, even tho' her lumberman daddy in Centerville liked it, before she was invited to appear on the show.

But as I've said before, time changes everything! The show fostered the music industry's birth and growth here, and not just Country and Western either! A WSM radio man revived the tag "Music City", first applied by none other than Queen Victoria when she heard the Fisk Jubilee Singers. National Life and Accident, parent company of WSM and its Opry, chose to move the show out of the inadequate Ryman Auditorium and into a suburban complex which would include a theme park. Opryland helped make Nashville a major tourist and vacation destination!

Eventually, Nashvillians were won over to the Opry and country music. Now, when one enters Metro Nashville-Davidson County on the highways, the green signs with white lettering greet you with "Entering Metro. . . Home of the Grand Ole Opry".

Tonite the Opry will return the compliment by helping with the Nashville flood recovery and relief. The Tuesday Nite Opry, in Ryman Auditorium where it was already scheduled as kick-off of the anniversary celebration, will include appeals for audience donations to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and its flood relief efforts.

The oh-so-special show will happen in two parts, the first a typical Tue. Nite Opry format, and the second a one-of-a-kind Opry Guitar Jam for Flood Relief. Prominent Opry cast members and million-sellers Steve Wariner, Ricky Skaggs, Brad Paisley and Vince Gill will perform, first individually and then jammin' together! Not only will this be broadcast live on WSM-AM 650 and at wsmonline.com, but the Opry Website will video-cast it.

How timely is this, that the show that's launching its 85th anniversary festivities -- in its best-known former home, in the heart of the city -- is lending its efforts to the flood disaster recovery of a hometown that took awhile to embrace it but now does so with a bear hug!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Listening in Music City

This past Saturday, 22 May, featured great listening pleasure for yours truly!

It began with an early trip to downtown, to return items to the central Public Library. Because I had a few minutes before doors opened at that imposing, Greek-architecture -- we're "the Athens of the South"! -- edifice I strolled over to Urban Market. This is an HG Hill grocery store next to the base of the L & C Tower (Nashville's first skyscraper). It's a very convenient location for getting a cup of coffee, and a breakfast pastry (or groceries).

While I was fixing myself a cup of joe -- adding Splenda and lots of creamer -- grabbing the pastry and getting in check-out line, to my great delight the sound system in Urban Market began playing "Listen to the Music" by the Doobie Brothers. It's always been my favorite Doobies song! And one of my fave from my Top Forty Pop-Rock listening days (early to mid Seventies).

As I unashamedly sang along, I considered how this was most likely my first hearing of "Listen to the Music" since I moved back to Nashville in A.D. 2008. I went on to think of what an oh-so-very appropriate theme song for Music City it would make!

Later, in the afternoon while driving around selling ice cream out of the truck, I was listening to the truck's radio -- but not just to music. Dear reader, the baseball team from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville (I was an adjunct instructor there off and on in the Nineties) was playing a season-ending double-header. Van Stokes who does radio play-by-play for the APSU Governors, is an old friend and former fellow church member. I enjoy listening to Van on the radio, and I enjoyed listening Saturday afternoon. Particularly since the Govs won both games handily, over UT-Martin. Indeed, the Govs won their final four baseball games, which lifted them from last place to seventh in the Ohio Valley Conference. But alas! the conference tourney only takes in the top six teams. So Coach Gary McClure and the bat Govs are finished until 2011.

However, the two other NCAA baseball teams I've been following ended season play with stellar records! The TCU Horned frogs finished 43-11, season champions of the Mountain Wst Conference. Closer to home, here in Nashville, the Vanderbilt Commodores won one and lost two against Arkansas, to finish 40-15 (16-12 SEC). This is plenty good en'uf for the 'Dores to go to the Southeastern Conference tourney which begins Wednesday in 'Bama!

Of course, I finished up my Saturday listening in typical fashion, by tuning in to the Grand Ole Opry show on WSM-AM 650. As always, the Opry was delightful, and I went to bed content.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mental non-image becomes REAL image!

Yesterday, Wednesday, while I was on the Nashville MTA bus carrying me to work, my oh-so-active mind was contemplating various things (as usual when I'm on the bus). Since I'd chosen to dress nicely, I got to thinking about how I truly enjoy being nicely garbed, i.e., in slacks, dress shirt and necktie. And how I much prefer to dress quite casually on Saturdays (unless a wedding or other very special event prompts me to dress up). And how there are certain activities for which even I won't don a necktie.

One of these no-tie, casual-apparel activities would be mowing the lawn. Probably not even if with a riding mower, and definitely not if cutting the grass with a push-mower!

Well, lo and behold! in the afternoon, while driving my Goody Wagons ice cream van in the old-homes South Nashville neighborhood near the Napier projects, I espied an Afro-American gentleman about my age accompanied by a much younger fellow -- perhaps his son. The older gentleman was behind a push-mower, dressed in slacks, long-sleeve shirt and tie!

The two left the mower and came to the van to purchase ice cream treats; I couldn't resist commenting to the gentleman that I'd NEVER BEFORE seen a fellow in a dress shirt and tie behind a lawn mower. We both laughed about this. (He didn't give any explanation for his appearance and activity.) And I was thinking to myself that it was a good thing the weather was pleasant and low humidity, so that he hadn't perspired onto the yellow shirt or the nicely-striped bluish tie! In fact, he was, so to speak, rather photogenic, and would have taken a good photo, with or without the mower.

I reckon you never know when you might see something totally new and unexpected!

Monday, May 17, 2010

A movable show and a moving Sunday

If you've been keeping up with my blog this month, dear reader, you know that one of the casualties of the Great Flood of 2010 was the Grand Ole Opry House. It won't be restored to usability for several months. But wonder of wonders, the world's oldest live radio show didn't miss a beat on the airwaves (so to speak)! See my post of 5 May for how the day after the flooding Cumberland River crested, the Tuesday Nite Opry took place in a former home of the Grand Ole Opry show.

Speaking of "homes", the Opry can now add another to its list. Friday and Saturday evenings the Opry was performed in the sanctuary of Two Rivers Baptist Church, right across Briley Parkway (and uphill!) from the flood-damaged Opry House. Listening to the two shows I kind of got goose bumps as I contemplated that I was listening to my favorite radio show at a historic moment indeed! "Eighth" may not be exact; it depends on whether you count the first two as one, since both were various studios of the new WSM radio station inside the National Life headquarters building.

Saturday for an hour before the Grand Ole Opry begins, "The Opry Warm-Up Show" is broadcast live on WSM-AM 650, with Mike Terry as host. He interviews a few of the performers who will be performing on the Opry, from the "green room" behind stage. For this on the Fifteenth, the choir room of Two Rivers Baptist Church became Terry's "green room". And the church's choir room really IS green, unlike the Opry House's!

Jeannie Seely was one of Mike Terry's interviewees on the "Warm-Up". Of course, they spoke mostly about our recent disaster here: the great flood. Jeannie's home had been flooded, and she spoke about her first return to the home and salvaging a couple of treasures from the waters, including her Grammy Award. She spoke about how so many other keepsakes, such as photographs were ruined, or if salvageable would still have elements from the floodwater which might induce sickness. Jeannie testified that hard as it was to let go of some of the stuff, she didn't want to live in sickness the remainder of her life. She summed it up by affirming that the keepsakes were the past and the past should not shadow the present and future.

I marvel at her intrepid, wise attitude!

Sunday -- Yesterday -- was Youth Sunday at my church, Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples). As with a year ago, a graduating high school Senior got honored, and there was a fellowship dinner after Worship. This year's honoree, Katie Burton, wrote a drama for the youth to do as the "sermon" portion of the Worship. Katie is one of my favorite "Friends" on Facebook, because she posts many positive messages concerning church and our upcoming events. So many times she expresses my very attitude of the moment regarding church!

After Worship and time for eating the fellowship dinner, Associate Pastor Michael Lehman got folk started off on saying things to Katie as our honored h.s. graduate. Katie's dad was the first up, and got very emotional -- you'd have tho't it was Katie's wedding! But bless his heart, he did move us. My own testimony was how I appreciated the postings on FB as expressing for me as well as her, and how I appreciated most, that "of all the good huggers in Eastwood, Katie is the best!"

And dear reader, yours truly is so very proud of Katie and all of our young people at Eastwood Christian! They're a major reason I'm so glad to be a member of this congregation!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

May 2010 Commencements

Well, it's that time of year again everywhere, including here in flood-recovering Nashville, when students who have completed their high school, undergraduate or graduate studies don the cap & gown and receive their diplomas.

You may not believe this, but yours truly actually LIKES going to graduation ceremonies, even ones I don't have to attend due to being student or teacher or having close relative graduating. Friday morning I went to Vanderbilt University to witness the graduation of my church's Associate Pastor, Michael Lehman, who received his MDiv from the university's Divinity School.

And I'm so glad I went!

It being warm and humid (and knowing that attendance would be high) I chose to not go to Alumni Lawn for the main Commencement start but rather enter the VU Library and bring up the on-line coverage of it. (That way I could also check out e-mail & do FB, switching back & forth between the windows on my screen.)

I was so surprised and delighted to see my old radio deejay buddy Keith Bilbrey's son Eric receive a Founders Award. (Surprised because I didn't even know Keith had a kid going to Vandy!) And then Chancellor Nick Zeppos gave a fine Commencement address. VU's fairly new chief kept it short & sweet! (It's long-standing tradition that Vanderbilt does not invite in a guest speaker but rather has the sitting Chancellor address the graduates.)

Then those receiving degrees from the graduate & professional schools left Alumni Lawn. And I left the library to enter nearby Benton Chapel, where Michael and the other divinity graduates would receive their diplomas. This part of the ceremony was much like a worship service, complete with hymn singing. To my surprise again, was Steve Gower was among the graduates! When he was intern at Eastwood Christian Church in 2008 I had assumed he was a first-year student. Steve received the Disciples of Christ denomination's own "Chalice Press Award".

Dean James Hudnut-Beumler, head of the D School, addressed the graduates in the presence of family and friends. He followed the Chancellor's lead, in keeping it short and sweet (the "KISS" Principle). Dean Hudnut began by alluding to the recent flood, and tying it in with the numerous images of water in Scripture. And he has a fine sense of humor!

I hope that sometime soon I can access on-line copies of both these KISS speeches, because both are worth remembering!

Afterward there was a reception, complete with rich and exotic finger foods -- kind of befitting a school nicknamed the "Harvard of the South"! And thank God, the forecast rain held off. When it did come later in the day, it was rather heavy, but not anything like 1 and 2 May.

Tomorrow, is Eastwood CC(DC)'s annual Graduation Sunday. We will be honoring especially our high school graduate, Katie Burton, who sings soprano in the choir. But we also have a couple of post-high school new alumni, including Michael. I'm really looking forward to the graduation celebration at Eastwood tomorrow!

All these Commencements are just what Nashville needs, to remind us that life goes on after the disaster of the flood! It's so appropriate for a city that long before it was called "Music City USA" was tagged as "The Athens of the South". Congratulations to all the graduates of 2010! Congratulations to Tennesseans for rebounding from the flood disaster! We are Nashville!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"The Show must go on!"

Floodwater is still high here in Nashville, but it's going down noticeably, having crested Monday evening. Thank God for that!

This morning I read a great statement in the Tennessean that was posted on Facebook Tuesday. "Glad to see the only thing rising in Nashville now is love and support for one another (and from our friends in other places." --attributed to Joe Burchfield.

And Tuesday evening, the "Tuesday Nite Opry" show, which couldn't take place in the flooded Grand Ole Opry House, relocated to War Memorial Auditorium near the state Capitol and went on as scheduled. Opry cast member Jeannie Seely, who lost her home in the flood, performed during this historic show (historic because War Memorial is a former home of the Opry). Before singing, Jeannie commented that somebody had expressed surprise that she would be performing that evening. And her response had been, "well, it's not like I can stay home and watch TV. You can laugh about it or cry, and I don't want to cry."

Good for you, Jeannie Seely!

Also, US Senator and former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander was at the show with the State's other US Senator, who were in town to survey the damage and support the request for federal disaster declaration. And Sen. Alexander, known for some musical talent, obliged a request, sat down at the piano and played one of our State Songs, "The Tennessee Waltz."

It was an "Opry Moment" for sure!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Great Flood of 2010

There have been floods and other natural disasters in Middle Tennessee over the years. For instance, I was living in Clarksville in the late 1990s when a tornado tore thru the downtown part of that city, leaving much destruction (fortunately, nobody was killed or seriously injured). Nashville itself has suffered major flooding of the Cumberland River on several occasions. Up to this past weekend local folk would sometimes refer to the flood of 1975 that inundated Opryland (the park had operated only three years at that time).

All these pale beside what occurred this past weekend. Saturday morning a front of severe thunderstorms which had already assaulted northern Mississippi and west Tennessee moved into the mid-state region. Thru Sunday the storms dumped over 13 inches of rain on Nashville -- a two-day record! The Cumberland River and its tributaries overflowed their banks, setting record flood crests!

Sadly, ten people have perished in the Metro area, 18 in Tennessee, including one in Montgomery County (Clarksville), and 29 in all states hit by the furious storm system.

The Cumberland did not crest until last evening. Opryland, of course, is history, replaced by a shopping mall. But that infernal mall (Opry Mills) now sits in water that's deeper than that of the Flood of '75! The Opryland Hotel and the Grand Ole Opry House both were invaded by the flood waters. Hotel guests and employees were evacuated to a nearby high school, and it will be months before it's back in business

And the world's oldest live radio show? Well, the show must go on, so it's returning to previous homes. Tonite's "Tuesday Nite Opry" will be performed in War Memorial Auditorium near the State Capitol, where the show was for a few years in the 1930s. And Friday and Saturday's shows will take place in the historic Ryman Auditorium, the Opry's home after War Memorial until 1974.

Downtown streets close to the river went under its floodwater, as did much of the area across from them, in East Nashville, and also a part of Metrocenter, north of them. Creeks in the southern and western parts of the county also saw major flooding. For instance, Mill Creek waters closed parts of Interstate 24 and major thoro'fares. And the creek floated a portable classroom of a private school off its foundations and onto the interstate hiway! Richland Creek to the west raged into a rock quarry that was well over a hundred feet deep, forming first a spectacular waterfall, and then a deep lake when the hole filled up.

When I arose Sunday morning it was during a lull in the rainfall. But by the time I went out to go to church it was pouring down at its worst! When I got out to Murfreesboro Road, its inbound lanes were a raging river, complete with rapids! So I saw that it would be very difficult if not impossible to get to services. But shortly I got a phone call that church activities at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) had been cancelled. And then local news coverage of the disaster reported that MTA bus service was cancelled. At last word, buses won't run again on the city routes 'til Friday.

All in all, this has surely got to be the greatest natural disaster ever to hit this area! I need to find some place that's selling tee shirts that say "I survived the Flood of 2010!"